Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Exclusive: “I’m abandoning Art for Ice,” says Arctic entrepreneur

Nancy Campbell has announced her plans to abandon an apparently lucrative career as an artist in a selfless bid to bring “hydro-fabulousness” and environmental ethics to the cocktail bars of Europe. Campbell’s coup de foudre came during a trip to the Arctic to observe the impact of climate change.

“After seeing the glistening icebergs”, Campbell says, “I realised there was only one way to prevent rising sea levels, and that’s if the whole world clubs together to use up all this naughty ice before it melts into the world’s oceans.”

Campbell was drinking tea by a halibut hole with a friendly fisherman when inspiration struck. The Inuit traditionally make tea by chipping small chunks of ice from the glacier to melt in their tin kettles over a fire. “At that moment,” Campbell says, “all I really wanted was a Whisky Mac, and it struck me that the pure glacial ice would top my cocktail off nicely.”

Campbell’s scheme will use ice from the giant glacier Sermeq Kujalleq in Ilulissat, the fastest calving glacier in the world. The area was recently designated a UNESCO heritage site in order to prevent the vulnerable environment from further destruction.

After rigorous tests on selected samples, to dismiss any suspicion that glacial ice has been polluted by industrial waste dumped in Arctic waters, the enormous blocks of ice will be flown to Europe’s capital cities in temperature-controlled conditions, to be broken down into cubes for discerning drinkers. The venture is tipped to bring work to hundreds of Inuit who are currently facing destitution as their traditional means of sustenance through fishing becomes impossible in the changing landscape.

Nancy Campbell has applied to the Enterprise Council for funding for 'Project Arctic Just-Ice' and welcomes enquiries from potential investors.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Borrowed Bookshelves: 4

Colin Campbell, Art Historian, Northumberland.

Above many shelves of scholarly works on Rembrandt, I found some light relief in the form of a six-volume 1877 edition of Robert Burns' works. Monday marks the 251st anniversary of Burns’ birth, and I'll be reciting his paean to ‘Scotch Drink’ over a haggis:

Food fills the wame, and keeps us leevin;
Tho’ life’s a gift no worth receiving,
When heavy-dragg’d wi’ pine and grieving;
But oiled by thee,
The wheels o’ life gae down-hill, scrievin,
Wi’ rattlin glee.

For those who prefer books to booze, here are some lines found scribbled in a musty volume of Shakespeare in the library of Burns' friend Cunningham:

Through and through th'inspir'd leaves,
Ye maggots, make your windings,
But O respect his lordship's taste
And spare the golden bindings.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Borrowed Bookshelves: 3

Emily Brett, Writer and Visual Artist, Hackney, London.

I found these much-loved Ladybird books lurking amongst Brett’s eclectic collection of literary and theological texts. Brett says, in testimony to the Ladybirds’ durability, “I loved the books’ feel: firm, droppable, difficult to rip the pages because the cover was so hard; and I loved the picture of the Ladybird in the top right corner.” She adds, “From the look of its legs I suspected that Ladybirds could crawl everywhere and everywhere they crawled there was a book about what they'd seen…”

The slim volumes are mostly educational; they alerted the young Brett to important concerns such as woodwork, pond life and pirates. Yet far and away her favourite was the story of Joan of Arc who saw visions of God in the sunlit fields. For a small girl who could still barely read, part of the appeal for Brett were the illustrations of the pious yet sassy saint-to-be and her surroundings. “The pictures of cows, bowls of soup, wooden tables, stone masonry, the church and battles, tell their own narrative, leading Joan from her village to her higher purpose. I remember particularly a picture of her holding up and dedicating her sword to a statue of the Virgin Mary. It seemed terribly noble and, in a way, glamorous. I realised there was much more to life than met the eye. I also loved the endpapers, with dark grey drawings and captions of important things, such as 'Crossbow-men', 'Joan in her armour', 'A Knight', etc.

“Joan’s story is so exciting. She's so brave and has such sensibility. On the cover there’s a picture of her riding a white horse in battle, in her glinting armour, cape flowing against the blue sky. It symbolised life as an adventure and a crusade... In summer there were lots of Ladybirds in the garden on a plant with tiny purple flowers and I liked counting their spots and calling them Joan.”

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Borrowed Bookshelves: 2

Frances and Nicolas McDowall, proprietors of the Old Stile Press, have a complete set of the Chiswick Press Shakespeare in their library, minus a copy of The Tempest which found its way to my bedroom: 'All that is solid melts into air'.

Borrowed Bookshelves: 1

On the last day of the year I watched all my books disappear into a shiny bunker at the Big Yellow Self Storage Company (more on these generous supporters of my work in the Arctic in a later post). I thought I'd fill the void left by my own library with an occasional feature on bookshelves encountered during my travels.

Never one for Dewey Decimal order, I'm fascinated by the odd systems of domestic bookshelving, with all their shambles and synchronicities. First off, an uncharacteristically lowbrow corner of the collection belonging to scientists Mark Walton and Carinne Piekema in Oxford.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Old Stile Press: Figures in a Landscape

My first port of call this year was The Old Stile Press in the beautiful Wye Valley. Frances and Nicolas McDowall, who have been publishing books since 1979, invited me to come and look at their recent titles, and discuss compiling a bibliography to extend a history of the Press first published at the millennium.

Snow fell on the day I arrived, transforming the earthy winter tones of the Forest of Dene (red and orange lichen on the trees, sere growth along the river banks) into a monochrome view worthy of a wood engraving. The Wye wound its dark eddies through pristine snowdrifts in which, as the cold intensified, crystal aggregated to crystal until each flake was visible, large as an eye and intricate as a fern leaf.

Frances McDowall collects plant fibres from the fields and combines them with local spring water, creating the paper for many of the books that Nicolas designs and prints. This splendid partnership offers many artists a rare opportunity to experiment with different print processes and exploit the possibilities of the book form. The impressive list of titles ranges from a miniature haiku collection to, most recently, an ambitious production of Peter Schaffer's Equus, bursting with exuberant multi-media images by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

A Neo-Romantic sensibility is evident in many of the books. Whether the artist’s work takes shape through colourful figurative linocuts or more sedate engravings of seashells, trees and other natural forms, it seems imbued with what the Inuit call inue or "soul". The mystical elements of the landscape are expressed particularly strongly by the exceptional printmaker Angela Lemaire, whether in the mountain that swallows up a whole generation of children in The Pyed Pyper, or in the Scottish Border landscapes haunted by faeries and ghosts in Secret Commonwealth, a seventeenth-century account of the uncanny by Robert Kirk.